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April 21, 2000
Club Cafe To Broadcast Small, Intimate Concerts To Global
Audience Via The World Wide Web
By Tim Schooley
Don’t let the art-deco facade at Club Cafe in Bedford Square fool you. Behind its classic front, Club Café is equipped with two 32-channel consoles that give a wide range of possibilities for recording audio and digital video.
“It’s almost like pulling up a remote truck to record live events,” explained Barney Lee, one of the club’s partners, on the technology they’ve installed. “We basically put the truck upstairs.”
Looking beyond developing merely a successful nightclub, Mr. Lee and partner Marco Cardamone are looking to webcast its events.
The console downstairs is for the audio and video recording of live events the club hosts. The console upstairs is for eventual use as a source of webcasting, the process of using streaming audio and video for transmission over the Internet – a feature Mr. Cardamone and Mr. Lee hope to begin offering in the next six months.
“We founded the club to become a place where local talented musicians across a variety of genres – jazz, blues, rock, pop – would have a small intimate, hip venue in which to showcase their work,” said Mr.Cardamone. “Once you have an environment where local and national acts can come and do their thing in an intimate setting, we wanted to bring that out to the world through webcasts.”
Club Cafe’s heavy emphasis on high-tech recording capability is even more unusual when you consider the club’s size. While the use of webcasting at night clubs can be found at trend-setting clubs such as the Knitting Factory in New York City, which has more than one concert stage, Club Cafe has a capacity of only 110 customers.
Don’t think small; think intimate, say the owners. “For the audience, you have a proximity to the performer that makes you a part of the performance that you wouldn’t have in a much larger venue,” said Mr. Cardamone. “We want to preserve and capture the best of a live performance and play that in the context of the Internet.”
It could be the best of both worlds: an intimate venue and the potential to reach a worldwide audience over the internet. Mr. Lee and Mr. Cardamone believe they may be the first club in Pittsburgh to pursue webcasting.
“We know there’s no one else in the market doing this,” said Mr. Cardamone. “And we wanted to be a first mover.”
Andrew Rasiej, CEO and president of Digital Club Network, a New York-based company that seeks to webcast and archive concerts at 41 clubs throughout the country, said his company has member clubs that are even smaller than Club Cafe.
With less than 100 clubs webcasting throughout the country, he agreed that small could be beautiful, and newly marketable with the help of webcasting.
“At some point, the artists are going to realize that the audience outside of the venue is greater than the audience inside the venue,” said Mr. Rasiej. “And that may be the most provocative idea.”
Shooting for their first webcast in September, Mr. Cardamone and Mr. Lee are perhaps uniquely positioned to do so. They are the principals of the Pittsburgh office of marchFIRST (formerly USWeb), one of the largest Internet services firms in the world, with 8,500 professionals working in 70 offices in 14 countries.
They’re also among the partners who own the successful Cafe Allegro restaurant, located right across the street.
“I think it would be a difficult thing for a club this size to really do,” said Mr. Lee, considering the low volume of a small capacity club with the costs of implementing such high-end technology. “I think what really makes us different is our ability at a high level to capture what is happening in a club from both an audio and a visual expertise,” he added.
Dave Brenner, vice president for new media at the Knitting Factory, said that while his club had been webcasting its events for free for nearly five years, the quality of current webcasting isn’t good enough to make people want to pay for it yet.
“I do believe there’s going to be a convergence of technologies where your TV and your computer and your stereo will be more integrated into one system,” said Mr. Brenner. “When that starts to happen, I think pay-per-view will be a more viable option.”
Since opening last fall, Club Cafe has hosted a wide range of musical acts, featuring such local favorites as Bill Deasy, Roger Humphries and Phat Man Dee, as well as up-and-coming national acts.
The club’s audio and video capabilities offer the possibility of other kinds of entertainment as well, such as short films and spoken word performances.
Mr. Cardamone and Mr. Lee are deciding on the best strategy for marketing their webcasting venture, including whether to offer Club Cafe events as pay-per-view or free.
Perhaps the biggest barrier that is keeping streaming audio and video from really taking off as both an industry and an entertainment outlet is the poor reception available on the traditional modem speeds most people utilize.
That is changing quickly. As broadband Internet access, with its far greater carrying capacity and high-speed connection quality, becomes the norm in American households, the computer will have the potential to be as effective a medium for video as television.
That future is soon enough for Mr. Cardamone and Mr. Lee to begin having early positive discussions with national recording labels, as well as with local radio stations WYEP and WDVE.
Key to the venture will be the talent of the acts themselves as Mr. Lee and Mr. Cardamone work to help local and national artists reach the broader Internet audience.
“What we think we’re really doing is satisfying latent demand. We feel the world is ready for original content and new voices and doesn’t just want to see recycled VH-1 content for the rest of their lives,” said Mr. Cardamone.
“There’s a great range of demographic for new content. We want to be a conduit for that.”